Los Angeles Fire Chief Brian Cummings says he wants to retain his position under new Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has asked all department heads to reapply for their jobs and has signaled he will pay extra attention to management of the city’s Fire Department.
Cummings told The Times he would like to remain chief until at least 2018. He said he wants to lead the LAFD to improved management of its growing number of medical rescues, which now account for more than 80% of 911 calls for help. He also wants to ensure the department remains ready to respond to less-common challenges such as earthquakes, fires and man-made disasters.
“It’s a very delicate balance of competing priorities,” Cummings said of the task. “I’d like to be that person.”
Cummings has struggled to restore confidence in his management of the 3,500-employee department since fire officials admitted last year to overstating response times, making it appear rescuers arrived faster than they actually did.
A task force of experts concluded late last year that officials charged with crunching numbers were poorly qualified and that previous LAFD data analysis “should not be relied upon.”
Times investigations found delays in processing 911 calls and summoning the nearest medical rescuers from other jurisdictions, as well as wide gaps in response times in different parts of the city.
During his campaign, Garcetti criticized the fire chief’s leadership, questioned the reasoning behind a recent ambulance staffing change, disagreed with a plan to restructure the agency’s 911 call center and asked the department to produce a multiyear “restoration plan.”
Earlier this year, Cummings drafted an ambitious plan to seek additional money from the council to restore about 300 agency positions eliminated in recent years. But he quickly withdrew it, saying it needed more work.
Cummings said Tuesday he had no new, comprehensive improvement plan for the mayor. But he pointed to a series of recent initiatives, including data-handling reforms made in the wake of the response-time controversy, and a much-debated plan to shift 22 firefighters per shift to staff 11 additional ambulances.
Cummings was appointed chief by then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. He has more than 30 years of service with the LAFD and last year earned nearly $300,000 as its top officer.
He said he had not yet scheduled a time to meet with the mayor and did not expect a decision on whether he would keep the job for at least 60 days.
“I am the fire chief,” he said. “I have to move forward.”